Mar 10

Does context matter?

I am not perfect.

Privileged yes, but not perfect.

To be perfect first you must be able to describe the ideal. Societies are in a perpetual cycle of trying to define the ideal and all they really describe is the privilege.

I am lucky to have some societal perfections privileges. I am white. I am cisgendered. I have no physical disabilities and my mental ones (whilst still technically physical) are not readily apparent to most of society.

In other ways, I lack privilege. I am a woman. I am bisexual. I am atheist. I  do not exist in society’s narrow spectrum of beauty.

Even if I were lucky enough to meet cultural ideals in every way, I still wouldn’t be perfect. I would be privileged.

I would be scary.

I can tell what you are thinking. Wait? What? Why do you say scary? There is nothing inherently frightening about having privilege. That is where you’d be wrong.  Over the course of humanity positions of privilege have been used to evoke fear in unprivileged classes. It has done so as a means of protecting itself. Privilege has a survival instinct it seems. Privilege has promoted fear out of sheer hatred for the unprivileged as well. Privilege continues to evoke fear for both these reasons today. Privilege is a scary thing.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

One of my many imperfections (this time I won’t strike through as it is a personal ideal) is that I am continually less moral than I wish to be. Societies change, morals change, and  my views on morality in society change. I am just trying to keep up.

I am not a violent person, but I sometimes wish violence on other people.

Don’t bother lying from the seat of piety righteousness that you haven’t done the same. Envy of privilege is a very social creature thing. It happens to everyone by degrees. I won’t believe your lie if you say never. I will believe you if you say that you try not to. I try not to wish violence. I didn’t used to try. It is one of the ways I am trying to change morally.

Here’s an admission: When I was younger I used to wish rape on rapists as revenge, especially child rapists. It wasn’t from the piety of privilege but it was from hatred. I had been raped. I wanted every predator to feel as I felt, like the victim. I wanted them to be scared like I was scared of them. I wanted them to wonder if it was somehow their fault just as I spent my life wondering.  I have to consciously try not to wish rape as revenge now. Just one of the ways I am trying.

Another admission: Some untimely-ripped-from-the-arms-of-their-loved-ones deaths are justice for me. Sometimes I wish it upon a person. Sometimes I sit back crossing my fingers in the hope a person will die before they have the chance to further negatively influence my life. Sometimes I hope someone will kill them and do the world a favor. I don’t hope it without consequence. I do feel bad for my mental victims’ families. I would never gloat to a grieving family that my karmic victim “got what they deserved.” I might express relief to my peers which may seem like gloating, but really it is the sigh of relief washing through my body.

These wishes come from a place of fear. They come from a history of victimization and a desire to fight back. They exist even though I am not a violent person. I could never actually enact the revenge I not-so-secretly wish in my head. The act of wishing alone provides me the needed catharsis while living unprivileged in a privileged world.

It is that way for most people. When non-violent people desire violence on others either internally or externally, we do so from a  place of fear.  We fear the power others may have on us, either real or perceived. We do so as a manner of maintaining internal or external control over a situation where we otherwise feel powerless. We do so to survive as unprivileged people in a privileged world.

Part 2

I delineate here so you can recognize the shift in theme.

Part one was more like an intro. Part two explains why this is on my brain and perhaps some conclusions I have reached.

Privilege and violence have been on my brain a lot lately. Privilege, for months now. Ever since the wake of a certain incident*, I cannot go a day without considering privilege. I hadn’t really thought about it too much before. Violence on the other hand, in degrees, has occupied my brain probably my whole life. Recently, the two themes have copulated in my brain and this post is the hybrid child of their convergence.

It started here.

In a twitter comment, an anonymous male (don’t ask how they knew he was male) posted:

I want to fuck Michelle [sic] Bachmann in the ass with a Vietnam era machete.

The wish for violence is strong in this one.

I wrote a comment in the post where I fell in agreement with authorities and Zvan that more information was needed to determine whether the expressed desire was an actual threat. I stand by that. I stand by it despite my many years experience wishing violence on others.  Except for two very specific people, I can’t really imagine I would be capable of acting violently against another person unless my safety was in question. Once again I am not a violent person, but I can’t know if this guy is.

We can say that it is not statistically unlikely that he is a violent person. Males commit sex crimes against women at alarming rates. They sometimes express their desire to do so beforehand. So it is not impossible, nor improbable. Without context authorities need to dig deeper. I am all for it.

Then the next thing happened.

In this post, on Reed’s blog, I somehow missed visiting a link at the bottom. I will say somehow is not completely accurate. I am a creature of habit and the motivation was not strong enough for me to explore beyond that particular post. I am grateful for the trans perspective that Reed has brought to FtB because honestly I would probably continue to be uninformed on most trans issues if it were not her skill at blogging and the intersection between transgender and skepticism. FtB put her in front of my face and her writing kept me there. I still haven’t felt the need to explore transgender issues much beyond the perspective of her and the comments section. (Did I mention I am privileged?)

It is probably best that I missed the link originally. If I had clicked, I might have missed clicking the bottom link in that post , and then I might have missed the comments section in this post. That or I may have just skimmed it without really paying much attention at all. As it turns out when I finally saw Reed’s post mentioning the possible  alienation of  her cis readers with “die cis scum” that I did a double take. Did Reed somewhere state that cisgendered people should die? That sounded so unlike her. I had to investigate. So I went back systematically. I reread what I read already ( I have a tendency to miss stuff the first time around).  So I read the comments, trying to figure out what this “die cis scum” comment was about and found my way to Asher’s post.

Full fucking stop. Whoa, that was some powerful writing. Tears in my eyes and everything. The author made me, for one moment in my life, fully empathize with the fear of a lack of privilege I will never experience. Of course, I drew upon my own fears as an aid but Asher’s post made me feel something very real that I have never quite felt before.

Then I went back and read the comments  on this post, starting with 12 and watched them devolve into argumentum ad absurdum. I watched a commenter somehow suggest that the author in Asher’s post wanted to kill cis babies and imply that those who empathized with the post might partly hold those same desires. I am not even going to get into the idea of how on earth it was possible to determine whether a baby was cis or not because it doesn’t matter even if they will be able to eventually.

Instead I am going to go back to the first story of a guy expressing the desire to anally rape a politician and compare it to Asher’s post.

They both expressed a desire for violence. They are both anonymous. That is where the similarities end. The primary differences between the two posts are context and privilege. In Mr X’s tweet he gives the world no context. The only context we have is that he is male and truthfully if he posts anonymously he may not even be that. The author of Asher’s post on the other hand gives us more. Asher’s post is from the perspective of a transgender person in a cisgender world. Based on the wording we can assume the author, despite attempting to remain anonymous, is not attempting to set up a false identity for hirself. We also know the author was attempting to be brutally honest in hir post. We don’t know that about Mr. X’s post. We assume that Mr. X is attempting humor because of the hyperbolic nature his post, but we make no such assumption with Asher’s post. The implication of desired violence is very real in Asher’s post.

Another thing that is clear in Asher’s post (though the opposite is expressly stated) is that the author has no intention of actually harming cisgendered people. The author wants to make cisgendered people afraid, but I don’t think any reasonable person would assume that ze actually means to harm one. The author is attempting (through words) to force cis people to step off their position of privilege and experience the fear ze feels every day. The author does so because the terror of being trans in a cis world often elicits a strong response. If you are cis like me, you haven’t experienced the author’s terror.

You can’t know.

Just like you can’t know if Mr. X is serious. Asher’s post seems pretty clear that the author is not serious but if that isn’t enough try this. Try doing a Google search on crimes committed against cisgendered people by transgendered people.  What you will come up with is the reverse. Transgender against cisgender violence is not common enough to be remotely news worthy but the opposite, cis against trans violence, is extensive. Furthermore the “threat” in Asher’s post is highly unrealistic. All cis dead? Really? In contrast, Mr. X’s “threat” is not remotely unrealistic. Both females and politicians are a common target for violence.

These circumstances are incredibly different and attempting to conflate them is misrepresenting both.

Then we get to my last motivator for this post. Another implication of desired violence. Another “threat” as it seems.

Zvan defends her posting a SomeeCard that describes a cartoon depiction of a female, who states “But how can I hold the aspirin when one of my knees is moving so swiftly toward Foster Friess’ balls?” She makes a wonderful defense that does a fantastic job of differentiating the card from the inexcusable comment about kicking a fellow blogger in the cunt. I am not rehashing that argument here.I just want to compare this expression of desire to the first two.

First this example is very different from the first two as it was designed to be the expression of desire from women (not woman). It was a political argument that intends to focus on implication of violence as an acceptable response to those who would deny the rights to a subset of population. It is the same as posting the quote from Thomas Jefferson, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” The call to arms that sometimes defending our rights is a brutal affair.

So what we need here again is context to determine whether a person’s identification with the sentiment expressed is suggestive of an actual desire to knee Friess in the balls. I am sure that it is entirely possible that at least one person who reads this card may try to if given the chance knee Friess in the testicles. I am fairly positive that plenty of people without reading the card but given the chance may do so as well. I’m mostly certain that the overwhelming majority of people who can look at this card and laugh don’t actually have the slightest desire to cause direct harm to Foster Friess, but they wish violence as a means of releasing their anger. Once again, wishing violence is something we all do…by degrees. Pretend it’s not all you want. I won’t believe you.

So three expressions of desired violence from three very different perspectives. One a single anonymous person directed at a single known person, two a single anonymous person directed at a large majority of the population, and three an image representative of a large number of people directed at a single known person. Again, conflating any of these would be erroneous.

I looked at all these and a question formed in my head. Why do some expressions of violence seem understandable if not even justifiable and others do not?

The answer lies in the context, in the privilege.

I am going to take us back for a bit before I end this very long post (psst, thanks for staying with me if you made it this far.) I am taking us back to a time when being white held a greater privilege than it does today. Back to a time of westward expansion and the enslavement and/genocide of thousands of cultures on the very continent in which I reside. Imagine standing, watching people of your nation, your tribe die brutally at the hands of the privileged “white man.” Is it more or less understandable when you express a desire for the “white man” to perish? Is it justifiable? I think most of us can see the justification in that desire. Is it more justifiable than the expressed desire that a politician be violated by a machete? That is for you to answer. I think you can guess mine.

The point is, much like when people try to conflate Shrödinger’s Rapist with Shrödinger’s Mugger, when someone conflates Asher’s post or the SomeeCard with something like Mr. X’s post they are reversing the position of privileges. Confusing who has the most to fear in a given situation. Maybe it doesn’t make any situation morally right where the desire for violence is expressed, but it certainly makes some situations more “understandable” than others.

Context matters. To say that it doesn’t is speaking from blinded privilege.

*Referring to an incident in an elevator that will remain nameless. Not looking to support the horrible magic hypothesis.

I would like to thank Stephanie Zvan and Natalie Reed for helping me to edit and being a huge inspiration in this post.


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  1. 1

    Really loved the post and I agree context matters. The idea that people with a lack of privilege can’t even express anger and frustration is a way of disempowering them. There is a huge difference between venting anger and specific threats. For a person of privilege this difference is less because they have power and the ability to back it up in a way a person without privilege can’t.

    1. 1.1

      Thanks Anna. I understand where you are coming from with the idea that those with privilege have the ability to back up their threats in such a way that those without cannot. If you imagine someone gay bashing in a threatening way, and eventually carrying out that threat, they stand less of a chance of being brought to societal justice than if the roles are reversed. People get away with using someones existence as a person of color to justify feeling threatened in a given situation, and no black person would ever manage to convince police that they felt threatened by an unarmed white man.

  2. 2

    These wishes come from a place of fear. They come from a history of victimization and a desire to fight back.

    I know exactly what you’re talking about. I was bullied when I was in high school. The couple of times I tried to fight back at the bullies I was beaten up. Many’s the time I sincerely wished the bullies would die, preferably in agonizing ways.

    Thank you for an excellent post.

    1. 2.1

      I wasn’t the target of bullies’ physical violence in my school, but many of my friends were. I am a highly empathetic person and I completely understand the need to fight back anyway that we can. I think what separates us from violent people is that we don’t resort to actual violence unless we are attempting to survive. I mean, if someone was physically attacking me, I would have no problem meeting that attack head on. However, if their attack is not so direct, my wish for violence is never actualized. I don’t even wish aloud anymore (except in the privacy of my own home.) I agree with Stephanie when she said in her post that “violence is a terrible tool to achieve most goals.” I don’t want my wish for violence to be a causal factor even if I sometimes want it to be correlative one. I don’t want to encourage violence. I just understand it.

  3. 3

    Regarding revenge fantasies: I have complex PTSD caused by prolonged religious abuse. When I was in group therapy, led by a recognized expert in the field, who wrote treatment manuals and trained other doctors, I described some of my many revenge fantasies. I was a bit concerned about them because I was such a meek, non-violent person who had been indoctrinated to quash emotions like anger.

    By discussing those revenge fantasies in the group, I realized that like you, I would never act them out. I was sick, but I wasn’t crazy or irrational. I eventually found other healthier, more effective ways to fight back. I agree completely with your analysis of this kind of revenge wishing.

    An interesting thing about the doctor who led my group, however, is that he said he had never heard any of his patients discuss such revenge fantasies. He took a lot of notes when I was discussing this and told me that he was going to add a section about it in the manuals he used in the groups.

    1. 3.1

      It is not the case for everyone but, for many people saying the horrible things that are in our heads are enough for us to feel they aren’t real. It took me becoming a overly honest person to realize that everyone has some fucking horrible ideas stewing in their brains that they never want actualized. People are super good at lying to the world about what goes on in their heads. I suppose they are even good at lying to themselves about it. I had to learn that it wasn’t just me.

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    [...] said, WilloNyx has a piece up that is making me think about the subject a bit more. Another admission: Some untimely-ripped-from-the-arms-of-their-loved-ones deaths are [...]

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    [...] Reeder WilloNyx has a really interesting piece up weighing in on the “Die Cis Scum” thing, the machete-related twitter threat against Michelle Bachmann, and Stephanie Zvan’s recent post about how not all threats of violence are the same thing. Very much worth reading. [...]

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    [...] great deal has been said about the idea of the context to Asher’s post. A threat expressed by a minority in a context of constant risk of violence, effectively rendering [...]

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